Many of you wonder if your holidays in the vicinity of Mount Etna can be dangerous especially during the period of increased volcanic activity of the highest active volcano in Europe.
Is Etna actually dangerous?
Eruptions, columns of ash and lava coming out of the ground, earthquakes! Sounds scary, doesn’t it? Sometimes I hear that we, the inhabitants of the cities and towns located at the foot of Mount Etna, must be completely brainless to live here! But is it really?
A wonderful climate, proximity to the sea and mountains, fertile soil, cheap and easily accessible building materials such as volcanic basalts, abundance of water from the sources located on the volcano, fed by frequent rainfall, growing tourism and its benefits – that all makes people live here happily from generation to generation. Nobody really thinks about the risks posed by the volcano.
Has Mount Etna killed anyone?
The number of casualties caused by the eruptions of Mount Etna, mentioned in historical sources, is very low. Even such a massive eruption as the one that partially destroyed Catania in 1669 did not kill anyone. The most tragic accident we know happened in 1843 near the town of Bronte, when hot lava got into a water cistern, causing a powerful explosion of water vapor. As a result of the explosion, the splashing lava fragments killed 59 people who happened to be nearby. In 1979, there was an accident on the edge of one of the central craters of Bocca Nuova. As a result of the unexpected explosion, 9 people lost their lives. Remember, however, that 40 years ago technology was less advanced than today. Today, we are able to predict an impending eruption with much greater probability. Overall, in total, directly or indirectly, Etna killed 77 people. For one of the most active volcanoes in the world, it’s probably not too bad.
What about the risk of an earthquake in Sicily?
I don’t want to make you worry, but in fact all southern Europe is at risk of a seismic event. If we are afraid of earthquakes we should say goodbye to the idea of holidays in Italy, Greece, Croatia and Turkey. In the vicinity of Mount Etna, the probability of an earthquake is no greater than in many other regions of Europe. Fortunately, seismic building standards are increasingly respected, which in a particular way determines the level of potential risk.
Quoting a statement by Boris Benhke, a volcanologist from the Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Catania, we constantly participate in everyday life situations that threaten our health or life, such as driving a car. However, we are used to them and they do not impress us much. On the other hand, concepts such as an eruption or an earthquake scare us. This is because these phenomena are little known to us. There are also the media, which very often falsify the real picture of the situation in the pursuit of sensational news. The likelihood of sustaining any trauma from the Etna eruption and the related effects is really minimal.
Is it safe to visit Mount Etna during the eruption?
On one hand, I read posts by dudes who pride themselves on the Internet that, despite the prohibitions, climbed the central craters without a guide, and on the other hand, I receive messages from people who imagine some apocalyptic scenarios related to the fact that the Etna volcano is active.
First of all, it should be remembered that Mount Etna, above all is a mountain with a height of more than three thousand meters. In many places, the terrain is difficult and the hiking trails are poorly marked. In addition, the weather may change quickly, so the same rules apply here as for any other mountain, i.e. appropriate clothing, knowledge of the trail or trekking in the company of a qualified guide. During the eruption period, the highest part of the volcano is usually closed to tourists. However, Mount Etna is huge, so even if there are explosions at the height of the summit craters, you can safely hike the lower parts of the volcano.
What else can I add? I have worked as Etna guide for over 10 years. I have been living in a village located actually on the slopes of Etna and often even several times a week I visit the highest parts of the volcano. I cannot imagine a more beautiful and safer place to live and work, away from the chaos of the city and smog. Am I afraid of Etna? I guess I’m more likely to slip in the shower and smash my head against the tiles than to get any sort of injury due to volcano activity!